Saudi Arabia`s King Salman ousted his nephew as crown prince on Wednesday and installed his son Mohammed bin Salman, capping a meteoric rise for the 31-year-old that puts him one step from the throne.
The young prince already wielded huge power before he became heir, spearheading a sweeping economic and social reform programme for the ultraconservative kingdom.
His rise comes at a crucial time for Saudi Arabia which is in a battle for regional influence with arch-rival Iran, bogged down in a controversial military intervention in neighbouring Yemen and at loggerheads with fellow US Gulf ally Qatar.
Prince Mohammed is now “de factor ruler of the kingdom,” said Andreas Krieg of the Defence Studies Department at King`s College London.
“The king needed to strengthen his son`s position amid the current turmoil in the region,” Krieg said.
Mohammed`s youth is a novelty for a country that is used to ageing leaders — King Salman is 81 and his predecessor King Abdullah died in 2015 aged around 90.
His rapid ascent over the past two years has symbolised the hopes of the kingdom`s young population, more than half of which is under 25.
Saudi television channels showed the bearded Mohammed bin Salman kissing the hand of his ousted cousin Mohammed bin Nayef and kneeling in front of the older prince, who patted his shoulder to congratulate him.
“I am going to rest now. May God help you,” the former crown prince said, to which his replacement replied: “May God help you. I will never do without your advice.”The king called on governors and other princes to pledge allegiance to his new heir and ordered a ceremony — routine on such occasions — after night prayers on Wednesday at a royal palace in Mecca.
His appointment may make Saudi policy more hawkish against arch-rival Iran and other Gulf rivals such as Qatar, increasing volatility in an already unstable region, analysts said. “Under his watch, Saudi Arabia has developed aggressive foreign policies (Yemen, Qatar) and he has not been shy about making strong statements against Iran,” said Olivier Jakob at Switzerland-based oil consultancy Petromatrix. “It is not really a question of if, but rather of when, a new escalation with Iran starts.” U.S. President Donald Trump, who last month made Saudi Arabia his first foreign stop since his election, telephoned Mohammed bin Salman to congratulate him on his promotion.